Stuff for science play and study
August 11, 2006 1:55 PM   Subscribe

I want to stock my 4th/5th grade classroom with materials that students can study, manipulate and experiment with on their own.

I have no background in chemistry, geology or any other physical sciences. Yet I have a notion that I can fill the shelves of my classroom with substances, materials and tools that students can use to explore on their own -- making observations and discoveries and not harming themselves as they go.

Example: A bag of iron filings + a box of magnets. Or a circuit board + a high-powered magnifying glass. imagination falls short. Help?

Bonus points for materials that A) are readily available; B) do not combine with other liquids to make explosives. Extra bonus points if you actually know a child (your younger self included) who enjoyed mucking about in the manner described. Thanks.
posted by argybarg to Education (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by StarForce5 at 2:01 PM on August 11, 2006

My brother's second-grade class got to take apart old, donated appliances and electronics - think toasters, handheld games, etc. Just make sure to cut off any power cords first.
posted by Coffeemate at 2:07 PM on August 11, 2006

Mentos and coke?
Baking soda and whatever it is that makes volcanos?
The sets they use in P-chem in college to build models of molecules.
Ph paper.
Don't underestimate books, either. One of my favorite classrooms at that age was one where the teacher had tons and tons of big books - like the kind you get on the bargain table at barnes and nobel. Big picture books about different cities or subjects. They got me interested in all sorts of things.
Magnfying glasses provided hours of entertainment outside.
Ummm... I know there is more.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:13 PM on August 11, 2006

I remember having tons of fun with Meccano and playdough/clay in 3rd, 4th grade.

We had an aquarium with fertilized salmon eggs - got to watch them grow and we eventually released them once they got big enough.

A high-powered magnifying glass is a good idea; encourage the students to bring stuff in from outside to look at. Something like this could be really great if you have the cash and a computer to hook it up to. Otherwise, an old disecting microscope (perhaps surplus from a local Uni/college?) could be fantastic. Encourage the students to draw what they see uner magnification.

As for magnets, neodynium magnets are teh roxxors (as long as they're small, they don't pose much of a threat other than being swallowed). Googling neodynium magnets will reveal a lot experiments/demos.

This site might spur your imagination (no affiliation - just a google hit).

You are an awesome teacher to think of providing basic exploratory tools for your students!
posted by porpoise at 2:28 PM on August 11, 2006

I second having old electronics to dissect. My experiences with deconstructing electronics and other various devices helped lead me down the road to make a career in engineering.

Microscopes with slides are also a good idea. You can get pre-made slides of all sorts of cool stuff in most science shops or look online for laboratory supply organizations.

Also, don't underestimate the value of common toys such as Play-Doh, Legos, Lincoln Logs, etc. when it comes to constructive and creative projects.

A class project such as germinating seeds and then growing a plant for each student is also a great idea (easy and inexpensive, too).
posted by galimatias at 2:53 PM on August 11, 2006

All of the following interested me as a kid. (Except the tungsten, which I didn't find out about until I was much older :) Also, I think it rocks that you're doing this.

Samples of some of the elements. While obtaining tungsten metal is probably too costly (probably $100/lb or more), a ingot of tungsten of a pound or more, and an identical ingot of magnesium for comparison (only a few ounces yet the same size), would make an interesting pair - the game is simply "wow, that is so small but so heavy! What is it?". They can be chained to their storage box so they don't go wandering. (tungsten metal can be found on ebay. in fact, almost everything mentioned will be obtainable that way)

Fossil replicas, or bone replicas, that you can assemble into segments of skeleton?

A box with: batteries, wires, lightbulbs, switches, solar panel, motor. Alternatively, ditch the batteries, then there is no combination of wiring or mis-wiring any of the above that can cause damage to any of the parts. If you use gearmotors, then they too can be used as a power source, not just the solar-panels. Additionally, zinc and copper metal, and cups, and salt, so that salt-water cells can be made, and hooked up into batteries. Some kids will spend some time assembling as many as possible into a mega-battery. If they can blow a 35 cent lightbulb with their efforts, I'd say that was worth the $0.35 :)

People might raise eyebrows, but for generating interest in earth sciences, I would suggest a geiger counter. A counter with an alpha-probe will get quickly broken in a classroom, as alpha probes are necessarily flimsy, but a gamma-only (or perhaps a studily sheilded beta-gamma) probe will be quite robust - a solid steel exterior :)
A geiger counter also has the advantage that it touches on the kind of things that kids these days are not normally allowed access too, the lure of the forbidden, yet is entirely safe.

That's the trick really - a whiff of danger or the forbidden, when in fact, unbeknowenst to the kids, it's quite safe :-)

rock/mineral collections, including a child's blacklight and fluorescent minerals. Likewise, large pinned insects behind glass, including some fluorescent ones (such as scorpians).
Plus, the blacklight is a toy in it's own right :)

Models of the inner planets, but actually to scale, so people can see how small the moon or mars is next to earth. Perhaps something really really big to be the scale of a gas giant like jupiter, hanging from the ceiling where it's out of the way (because it's going to be big if the earth isn't a speck :-) An orrery would be good, but they seem to start at $250, and are probably easy to break.

Plaster casts of animal tracks/footprints. Poster of the tracks of different animals.

Those plastic models of the human body that you sometimes see in doctor's offices, that can be disassembled and reassembled - they're really 3d jigsaw puzzles made of weirdly shaped plastic organs and stuff, and they can be modestly challenging to put back together again. Once you've struggled with one of those, you end up with a pretty good memory of which organs are where. Plus they're pretty durable and childproof.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2006

- prisms
- kaleidoscopes
- "fly eye" open-ended kaleido viewers
- gyroscopes and string
- magnifying glasses, microscopes (with prepared slides; rock samples; plant and bug samples from the schoolyard; each kid can look at her own hair or skin flake)
- compasses and maps of the school/schoolyard
- lots of sizes and types of magnets and small metal objects
- pinhole cameras
- soap bubbles
- dominos
- ant farm
- gear-based toys
- springs (Slinky, but also more springy springs. Other classes of simple machine? pulleys?)
- measuring tools(graduated cylinders of different diameter, especially. also tape measures, heavy-duty thermometers?)
- there is a set of wooden blocks with a track for a marble through it; you can assemble them in all different ways for the marble to roll through. (can't recall what these are called; might be on the expensive side)
- there are inexpensive kits for solar-powered built-it-yourself toy cars
- you could make them a zoetrope and they could make their own animation strips to put in it.
-construction toys, like wood blocks, sandpaper, hammer, screwdriver, fasteners (if you can think of a way to make these things safe for them)
- rope and a book about how to tie knots
- oil and water in a sealed container?
- paper and books on origami and paper airplane design

Things that require more participation from you:
- egg drop contest (could involve whole school in this)
- you could run a weekly "who can build the tallest structure with only these materials" contest, different material each week, like drinking straws and play-doh, or popsicle sticks or playing cards.
- cornstarch and water make for an amazing experiment you can do with them; in the right ratio (which I can't remember), the resulting mixture is totally solid if you punch it, but totally liquid if you move your hand through it gently. Here's one description
- Make invisible ink with lemon juice, that will reappear when heated with a candle. Here's one description of how
- Put celery stalks in colored water to show how capillary action draws water up the stem
- Do cool things with dry ice.

There are a lot more of that kind of thing; search Amazon for "science fair projects", and you will get tons of books suggesting very basic hands-on experiments. The internet also abounds with these suggestions. Books of basic magic tricks are also often science experiment books. These may give you ideas for what materials to stock, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2006

Never do ANYTHING with dry ice or sodium. Hooligan kid in the class gets a 'smart' idea to execute in the neighborhood, guess who gets blamed.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2006

Somehow I was thinking your students were more like 7 year olds than 10 year olds. You can let the 10 year olds do so much more! Awesome!

Maybe papercraft machines? Here's one good commercial site, but you can probably find free designs online somewhere. It's a first step toward building your own mechanical clock, which would be an awesome project if you get interested kids.

Most of the stuff on this site is stuff you could probably put together yourself...
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:53 PM on August 11, 2006

« Older Can we get to a D.C. beach without a car?   |   how to make a transparent soundproof box Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.